Taking The Political Pulse Of The Country Through Local Papers

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For a view of the partial government shutdown across the country, Melissa Block talks to Felice Belman, opinion editor of the Concord Monitor in Concord, N.H.; Patrick Malone, political reporter for The Coloadoan based in Fort Collins, Colo.; and Brian Pearson, managing editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Tyler, Texas.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We thought we'd sample thoughts on the government shutdown from around the country. And we've reached out to editors and reporters at three newspapers. In Concord, New Hampshire, Felice Belman, opinion editor with the Concord Monitor. Felice, hi.

FELICE BELMAN: Hi, thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And from in Fort Collins, Colorado, political reporter Patrick Malone with The Coloradoan. Patrick, welcome.

PATRICK MALONE: Thank you, Melissa. Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And lastly, in Tyler, Texas, managing editor Brian Pearson, with the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Brian, thanks for being with us.

BRIAN PEARSON: Hello, Melissa.

BLOCK: And first, I wonder if you could each give us just a really quick snapshot of the political leanings in your area. Brian, first of all, you. How would you describe the tilt of Tyler, Texas?

PEARSON: I would say it is a conservative, close-knit, churchgoing, family-oriented community. It tends to vote very heavily Republican in presidential elections. I believe in the last presidential election, it went 73 percent Romney. I would say it's probably the most, if not one of the most, conservative areas in the state.

BLOCK: OK, and what about in Concord, New Hampshire, Felice Belman?

BELMAN: Well, Concord itself is pretty liberal. But the state as a whole has become one of the most purple states in the country, which is to say there's been sort of political whiplash here. You know, the state has gone Democrat, it's gone Republican. It's gone back and forth a lot over the years, which from my perspective, running the opinion pages, is great because we've got readers fighting all the time.

BLOCK: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: And in northern Colorado, what about in Fort Collins, Patrick?

MALONE: Fort Collins leans Democratic. But the county that it's in, Larimer, is pretty representative of the state as a whole where you have one-third registered Democrats, one-third registered Republicans, one-third unaffiliated.

BLOCK: OK. Well, if the shutdown continues, and as we approach the debt limit when Treasury is going to run short of cash, what are you hearing from readers? How is this all affecting them? Patrick Malone in Colorado, why don't you go first.

MALONE: What we are hearing when you go to a coffee shop or restaurant in Fort Collins is a general frustration with Congress. I think people wouldn't put anything past them at this point. They're really down on Congress. And, frankly, matching the national polls, there tends to be a level of blame on the GOP.

BLOCK: A level of blame on the GOP. A different picture I imagine in Tyler, Texas, Brian?

PEARSON: Well, I sort of took this as an assignment from NPR and put on my reporter hat, and put a fetcher out on Facebook. And I was pleasantly surprised to find more than 50 comments when I woke up this morning. I'll read you one right here. Fed up with an administration that will not compromise; to be honest, I think we can do just fine without the federal government. I haven't even noticed. Republicans need to hold the line.

BLOCK: And, Felice Belman in New Hampshire, where you hearing?

BELMAN: You know, interesting. The day before the shutdown actually happened, we had sent a reporter out to do person-on-the street interviews. And she came back frustrated at how little people seemed to know about it. And yet, the minute it happened, we were flooded with angry letters and calls from readers sort of all on all ends of the spectrum.

We like to think, particularly in a state like this which prides itself on its sort of live-free-or-die mentality, that we don't need the federal government. But it's insinuated in our lives in ways we don't even think about. And I think that's become clear to people over the last week.

BLOCK: You raise an interesting point, Felice, which is how directly is this shutdown or the looming debt ceiling fight - how directly is that affecting people around the country? Or do they see this really as a Washington issue that isn't touching them? Patrick Malone, what about in Fort Collins?

MALONE: It's a disaster. I mean, you've got Estes Park coming off of monumental hundred-year type flood. They really rely on this type of tourism season during the fall colors, et cetera, to right at the backdoor of Rocky Mountain National Park, which is now shut down. Look at the Centers for Disease Control in Fort Collins, 90 percent furloughed. So you've got about 36 people on duty to respond to any vector borne illness that comes up out there. You'd be talking about an outbreak of West Nile, Lyme disease, things of this nature.

BLOCK: Brian Pearson, I'd be curious to hear the thoughts from Tyler, Texas on the Tea Party and its role in this discussion; and specifically about the role of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party standard-bearer who now some are calling the de facto speaker of the House, for the influence that he's having on this discussion? How is he being seen in Tyler, Texas?

PEARSON: Well, there is a fairly sizable Tea Party influence in Tyler. But at the same time, I think that predominantly that Tyler, Texas is it's conservative and Ted Cruz is popular here. I know that Governor Perry is relatively popular here. But a lot of the politicians that represent us in office are a lot more moderate than those guys.

BLOCK: Felice Belman in New Hampshire, there any conversations about the Tea Party up or you are?

BELMAN: Yeah, you know, there was a brief moment in New Hampshire where the Tea Party and Tea Party affiliated, or Tea Party-sympathetic politicians really did hold sway here. That sort of ended with the last election and they seem largely unpopular. There's a former congressman from New Hampshire who is hoping to win his old seat back.

Last time around, he ran, you know, arm-in-arm with the Tea Party. And now he's talking about, you know, crossing the divide and trying to work with Democrats, and why can't we all just get along, and roll up our sleeves and get things done. It's a really different tone from him.

BLOCK: So it sounds like you're saying that the Tea Party wave in New Hampshire has turned to some extent.

BELMAN: It has. I mean, it's not gone altogether. But I think that crest of popularity certainly isn't around anymore.

BLOCK: One last question before I let you all go. Could you characterize in any way how folks in your regions feel now about the Affordable Care Act, which has become such a flashpoint in this discussion. Felice, in Concord, New Hampshire.

BELMAN: You know, a lot of people that we've talked to are seemingly patient about it, that they want it to succeed and that they're quite mindful of the opening glitches. And some of them wish that it were more progressive, I suppose you could say, than it is. But I think, you know, we've also heard from people who say, Jeez, if the government weren't shutdown we could really focus on what's wrong with this and expose how it's not working.

So I think people are still - because the rollout has been sort of eclipsed by what's going on with the shutdown, it's very hard to get people to focus on it.

BLOCK: Brian Pearson, I know the congressman from your area in Texas, Congressman Louie Gohmert, calls it the Obamacare calamity and a national nightmare. Would you say that view is widely shared in Tyler, Texas?

PEARSON: Welcome I think it would be no surprise to say that our community is decisively against Obamacare. I know there's one local restaurant owner that sold his business because he didn't want to face whatever obligations he had. And so, it's very much anti-Obamacare here.

BLOCK: And, Patrick Malone in Fort Collins, Colorado.

MALONE: I think it's not terribly popular. I think it's an issue that's extracted from this conversation about government shutdown largely in most voters' minds. But there were some sputters and stumbles coming out of the gate with the Colorado health care exchange and that didn't win over a lot of hearts.

BLOCK: Patrick Malone, Brian Pearson and Felice Belman, thanks to the three of you for talking with us today.

MALONE: Thank you, Melissa.

PEARSON: Thank you, Melissa.

BELMAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Patrick Malone, political reporter with The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado; Brian Pearson, managing editor with the Tyler Morning Telegraph, in Tyler, Texas; and Felice Belman, the opinion editor of the Concord Monitor in Concord, New Hampshire.

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